The extracts from Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘The Presence of the Past’ have a great plausibility. Two issues of considerable significance arise from these extracts. The first is whether we learn from the past in terms of memories relating to other than structure and function (eg. values, relations, ideas); if so, how far back can (or do) we go? The second is whether memories are stored in the brain, or in the ephemeral entity we call mind, or elsewhere.
“ If this view of nature is approximately correct, it should be possible to observe the progressive establishment of new habits as they spread within a species.
… … When people learn something new, such as wind-surfing, then as more people learn to do it, it should tend to become progressively easier to learn, just because so many other people have learned to do it already.
… … In the same way that this inheritance of habits may depend on direct influences from previous similar things in the past, so the memory of individual organisms may depend upon on direct influences from their own past.
If memory is inherent in the nature of things, then the inheritance of collective habits and the development of individual habits, the development of the individual’s ‘second nature,’ can be seen as different aspects of the same fundamental process, the process whereby the past in some sense becomes present on the basis of similarity.
Thus, for example, our own personal habits may depend on cumulative influences from our past behaviour to which we ‘tune in.’ If so, there is no need for them to be stored in a material form within our nervous systems. The same applies to our conscious memories – of a song we know, or of something that happened last year. The past may in some sense become present to us directly.
Our memories may not be stored inside our brains, as we usually assume they must be.”